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`Whirlpool Bend' claims granddad but not girl, 5

June 17, 2007|Carla K. Johnson | Associated Press

MOMENCE, ILL. — The searchers saw 5-year-old Hannah Klamecki's tiny footprints in the sand, near a part of the Kankakee River locals call "Whirlpool Bend." The body of her grandfather, her only swimming companion, had been found nearby, so they steeled themselves for the worst.

But Hannah was alive -- alone, scared and praying after two nights in the wilderness.

The current had carried the little girl close enough to shore Wednesday that she was able to pull herself from the water with a branch.

She tried to sleep under a tree, but the bugs were too loud. So she walked through the forest, trying to find her way back to her grandparents' house.

"I went searching all over the world to look for the cottage," Hannah said Friday. "It was hard to see where you're going."

That morning, a few hours after David Klamecki's body had been found, his granddaughter startled searchers when she emerged from the woods naked, scratched from the brush and holding raspberries. Her mother said she had taken off her muddy swimsuit.

"People were like, 'Who's that little girl? That can't be her, can it?' " Kankakee Sheriff's Chief Deputy Ken McCabe said. "I went up to her [and] asked, 'How you doing? What's your name?' "

Searchers gave Hannah a banana and water, but she asked for a chocolate cookie. She was taken to a hospital as a precaution, McCabe said.

Hannah and David Klamecki, 62, had been last seen Wednesday evening boating on the river near Momence, about 45 miles south of Chicago.

Authorities believe the current swept the girl away from a small island where she and her grandfather had stopped to swim and to the shore of the mainland, where she eventually was found.

"That's a tough little girl, I tell you," McCabe said.

The girl's footprints were still visible on the island beach. Searchers believed she had drowned and were scouring the area with a team of divers, sonar equipment and a helicopter.

When the girl appeared in an area about three-quarters of a mile from where she's believed to have reached the shore, "she looked in pretty good shape," McCabe said.

Her parents, Mike and Carol Klamecki of Villa Park, Ill., rushed to the scene, where Hannah was wearing a T-shirt and covered in blankets.

"She didn't say much, she was eating her banana and looking at us," Mike Klamecki said. "We were jumping around like maniacs."

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